Compromise is an important part of leadership, federal budget debate

(This letter was originally submitted to The Rockdale Citizen on May 11, 2011).

Dear Editor,

On May 10th, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) unveiled a budget proposal that cuts national spending from 25% of the GDP to 18.5%.   Like other plans, Toomey’s enacts restrictions on entitlement spending and healthcare reform.

As I listened to the conference, what I found interesting was not the proposal itself, but the rhetoric framing the budget debate as communicated from the Republican co-signers of the proposal.  It was Toomey’s fellow Senators, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio (of South Carolina and Florida respectively), that thanked him for his leadership on this issue.

Leadership:  When it comes to the budget debate, this loaded term invokes the apparent in-action of the Obama Administration in contrast to the Republican Party’s commitment to resolve the issue.

Whenever I hear about leadership, I get a little nervous.  Are the Republicans looking for leadership that seeks to balance the budget in a prudent and tempered fashion—a type of leadership that navigates through the complexity of a multi-trillion dollar system?  Or are they seeking the type of leadership like that of the previous presidential Administration, in which the executive branch bullied the legislative and judicial branches?

Leadership without patience and prudence has the potential to unleash unintended and long-term consequences.  The previous Administration’s costly and ill-informed unilateral attack on Iraq is just one example where lack of prudence failed to garner positive, cost-cutting results.

And there is something to be said about the Democratic Party’s inability to form a budget proposal whatsoever.  Certainly, a recession makes a proposal all the more difficult; but for a party that had control of both houses of Congress, this lack of leadership is inexcusable.

Suffice it to say, budgets are more complex than some might assume.  It took my wife and me days to carve out a budget on a mere five-figure income.  Imagine the time it takes to do that on a trillion-dollar scale—with a “scalpel” (in the words of President Obama) at that.

When it comes to weighty matters in which an entire nation is involved, leadership with an eye towards compromise is key to bringing about positive reform.  After all, the Constitution itself  was born out of compromise—Remember the “Great Compromise” in which the Founding Fathers married the best of the New Jersey and Virginia plans to develop representation in Congress?

Compromise is not a sign of weakness; it’s the foundation upon which our very democracy was built.

If leadership is the problem, both parties seem to be guilty, for true leadership happens when persons of difference can sit down and produce a plan that’s in the best interest of the greatest good.

There is great concern that federal debt must be dealt with, lest the issue become a problem for our children in years to come—to quote Sen. Rubio, if there is no action, “We will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving our children when it comes to wise governing.  I’d rather model for my children healthy teamwork and conflict resolution than to pass on the anxious uncertainty inherent in partisan pontificating.   Let’s pray that both parties can get their act together and get us on the road to economic stability.


Rev. Joe LaGuardia

An Open Letter to our U.S. Senators

Dear U.S. Senator (especially those in Georgia),

I would like for you to take time to consider casting your vote affirming health-care reform in the United States Senate.  It is both a historic and significant bill that will, according to my research, lower costs for middle-class families and allow people to get coverage without being denied based on pre-existing conditions.   As a Christian, I feel passionate about healthcare reform because it is one of many platforms that allows me to advance a pro-life ethic I believe Jesus and the Bible promote.

Healthcare reform is also important to my family.  My father is a small-business owner (has been since he was 21) and is struggling to save for retirement (he lost a small nest egg due to Enron’s collapse), but pays over $12,000 a year for health insurance (for him and my mother).  He is what you would consider middle-class and is a sole employee in his business; if he gets sick his business will suffer.

Additionally, if my  father were to pass away, my mother will not be able to afford healthcare whatsoever; nor is she of eligible age for medicare.

When we talk of healthcare reform, my father expresses that he does not want free health insurance–that would undermine his sense of dignity, his love for country, and his work ethic. But Dad cannot afford to retire because of the high cost of healthcare.

I’ve heard people say that healthcare reform will limit people’s right to choose their health options, but just several months ago when my father tried to get his insurance company to pay for medication he needed for his heart, the insurance company denied coverage.  According to his insurance provider, the medicine is considered “experimental,” whatever that means.   That denied my father’s doctor the freedom to treat Dad with the best care available.  Mind you, despite this denial, my father still pays on his premiums every month.

Luckily, and much to my father’s relief, the bill the House recently passed does NOT call for a “free” health plan like that of Britain or Canada.  On the contrary, the  bill calls for reform that will simply bring competition to the market by providing a public option that contains a larger pool of consumers to drive down costs.  A simple, no-brainer plan.

This is similar to what my wife–a public school teacher–gets through the state. Her monthly premium is a little over $300.00 for the FOUR of us because there is a larger pool of healthcare consumers, which in turn drives down costs.  We have plenty of power to decide who cares for us (the state of Georgia has never intervened in our healthcare decisions), and our health care is both timely and of high quality.

I hope that reform passes in the Senate so that my father, and the millions like him, can have a similar plan to that of our family, that he may maintain his sense of dignity and work ethic, and at least cut his healthcare costs by a fraction (even 20% will help).

(Oh, Did I mention that Dad does not smoke, have any pre-existing conditions, and [despite a temporary heart condition last year] is healthy as an ox?  But he still has to pay those exorbitant, out-of-control prices. It makes no sense. )

Passing reform is a natural fit in a nation that prides itself on “family values.”   Like regulating automobile safety standards–which the government had to impose–Healthcare reform is something that only a government such as ours can pull off. It is both a moral necessity and a just cause.


Rev. Joe LaGuardia

Conyers, Georgia